Google has stepped up its attack on Microsoft and its Outlook application with the announcement that it will be offering Gmail users the chance to view their mail offline.

Available over the next couple of days for UK and US Gmail users, the new feature will be available via the company's Labs project and therefore comes with the usual caveat of possibly not being completely bug free.

"Web-based email is great because you can check it from any computer, but there's one little catch: it's inherently limited by your internet connection," cites Andy Palay, one of the no doubt hundreds of Gmail engineers at Google on the Gmail blog.

The feature will use Google Gears to download a local cache of your mail and say Google, "as long as you're connected to the network, that cache is synchronized with Gmail's servers."

There is even a "flaky connection mode," which is designed for users on a poor connection. It according to the search engine company uses the local cache as if you were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background.

"We've been using offline Gmail internally at Google for quite a while (I've read thousands of messages and answered hundreds en route to visit my son and my daughter). And it's saved me more than once when my home network connection ran into issues (we have squirrels at home that love to chew through outside cable wires)," says Palay.

Users keen to try out the new feature should go to the Labs tab within settings in Gmail and enable it there. Google warn that no everyone will see it straight away however but should do in the "next couple of days".